The Greek philosopher Pindar (ca. 522–443 BC) wrote in his Ode: Pythian 2, Line 72, “Learn and become who you are.” [Perseus Digital Library Project. Ed. Gregory R. Crane. 01.13.2012. Tufts University. 01.13.2012 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu]. The passage was translated by Diane Svarlian.
Dr. Paul Tournier expanded on the ancient wisdom in his 1957 book, The Meaning of Persons: “It is not, then, a case of casting off the personage, but of bringing it into harmony with the person. It is a case of being in accord with oneself. Pindar put it magnificently: ‘Become what you are.’”
What exactly, for example, is the personage of being a “patriot,” or a member of a liberty group? How does that personage relate to who we really are as persons? Pindar and Dr. Tournier believed that we should become what we are. Those who are bigots, racists or threats to physical beings have become the same, use the language of the same and have nothing in common with true patriots. Those who are fighters for their beliefs, while respecting the persons and beliefs of all, have become patriots. We become what we are, use the language of what we are and form the habits of what we are. Much has been written lately about “fringe” followers of Ron Paul, whom I would call “village idiots.” They speak no sense or reason, Aristotelian or otherwise. They speak the language of hate. Hate is not confined to fringe supporters of Paul. It is not confined to the red and blue boxes of the party-elitist Republicans and Democrats. Hate is hate no matter where it originates from, and it originates from many political and societal ratholes.
The following is my condensation of Dr. Paul Tournier’s chapter four, entitled Utopia, from his The Meaning of Persons. This chapter of Dr. Tournier’s 1957 book speaks directly to the needed harmony between how we act and who we are. –SB
[From: Tournier, Paul. The Meaning of Persons: Chapter 4: “Utopia.” Tr. Edwin Hudson. 1957.]
Man remains a mystery to himself, and to attempt to elucidate that mystery by delving into one’s mind is merely to increase its perplexing obscurity.
We are, then, pursuing a chimera in attempting to grasp the essence of our person, completely divested of all adornments and disguises with which life has clothed it.
Thus, the result of our quest is that the person, through having its successive envelopes peeled off one by one, vanishes in our hands. One can understand, then, Shri Ramakrishna’s remark: “Think well, and you will see that there is nothing you can call ‘I.’ As you peel an onion, there is always another layer, but you never reach the kernel. So when you analyse the ego, it disappears completely.”
It seems that we must resign ourselves to this indissoluble connection between the person and its personage—or rather, between the person and its personages. For we are not only one personage through our lives; we are innumerable personages. At each new encounter we show ourselves different; with one friend we are the serious thinker; with another, the wag; we change our demeanor to suit each new situation. We are even many personages at once.
There is in me the troubled and anxious man, full of doubts about himself and about everything else, who himself knows all the anxieties and all the failures that my patients come to confess to me. There is in me the steadfast believer, who has had solid experience of God’s grace, and who witnesses to it with conviction. In me there is one who wishes to see himself and show himself, clearly, as he is; and there is one who wishes to parade even this honest desire. There is in me the doctor who believes passionately in his medicine, and eagerly runs to help his fellowmen; there is in me the egoist and skeptic, who would like to run away and hide in a solitary cabin.
The person, whatever it be, can only be manifested by expressing itself; and expression means a personage.
The whole of art, however personal it seems or tries to seem, is essentially communion, a bond between persons, a suprapersonal and interpersonal reality. Cartesians always affirm the primacy of reason, the language of which they hold to be universal. But the language of images, of poetry and art is universal also. There is no drama without convention, no photography even, without social convention. My dog does not recognize his photograph—to him it is only a blackened piece of paper.
So, if we tried to cast off all our social apparel, we should tend to become individuals and not persons. The notion of the person is bound up with the human community, a spiritual solidarity, a common patrimony, and therefore to a certain conventional form of expression which partakes of the nature of the personage. When we meet someone, we seek personal contact, but one of its conditions is a certain mutual intelligibility in our modes of expression which is of the order of the personage.
If I speak neither the language of reason nor that of poetry, I speak by my glance, my smile, my silence, my gestures, and the demeanor I adopt. Consider this, and you will see that there must always enter into these things some measure of convention, which varies with the country and the period.
It would seem that nudists—at any rate some of them—sincerely pursue the paradisiac and utopian dream of a complete divesting of the formal personage in the hope of creating a more genuine human community. To reveal oneself in all simplicity, just as one is, without even hiding what elementary modesty prompts one to conceal, is meant to be the symbol of a renunciation of all hypocrisy. Often our patients tell us of dreams in which they have seen themselves naked, and this always represents an inner longing to cast away their mask.
On this subject there is a passage in the Bible which is very much to the point. After the Fall, Adam and Eve provided themselves with a covering by sewing fig leaves together to make aprons (Gen. 3:7). But God himself soon came and perfected their rudimentary art, making them clothing of skins (Gen. 3:21). For he knew that thenceforth, in our human condition, and until the redemption of the world should be accomplished, we might no more be completely naked persons. Instead of taking man’s clothing away from him, God provides him with a finer garment.
So, with its characteristic realism, the biblical revelation turns us from the utopian dream of a life exempt from all appearance and all protection. For the efforts we were vainly making to isolate our person completely from our personage it substitutes a quite different idea: that of accepting the clothing which God himself gives us, of choosing our personage—the personage God wills us to have.
The bohemian who affects to despise conventions is not on that account without a personage. He has simply chosen one which he considers to be more original, and takes as much pride in it as the dandy in his sartorial elegance.
I myself, as I write this book, take care to arrange the parts and chapters harmoniously, and feel dissatisfied if one of them gets too long and so threatens to throw the whole book out of balance. I feel it would be disrespectful to my readers. This is a concern of an architectural nature, which aptly expresses a genuine bent in my person. Thus every function in the world entails its own requirements and calls for the observance of certain forms, and to conform to them is not mere play-acting.
I had occasion recently to visit a big health resort in the Alps. It was the day after St. Catherine’s Day. On that day a masked fancy-dress ball is held in each sanatorium. The medical superintendents told me that they never miss attending these functions, because there they can glean information about the persons of their patients which they miss in the routine of day-to-day life. Why does this woman disguise herself as a man or that one choose to dress up as the traditional witless country girl or the wicked fairy of the folktales? It is no mere accident!
And then, wearing masks, the patients behave differently from usual. They reveal facets of their person that are normally concealed. So, by a curious paradox, the costume and mask, instead of hiding their person, actually display it with greater truth.
We always tend to think of form and substance as opposites, and we would rather the substance of our work were appreciated than the form. But this differentiation is naïve and pretentious: the form is what is seen, and we always like to flatter ourselves (with regard to ourselves as well as to others) that what is not seen is more valuable than what is seen. ‘The exterior is the signature of the interior,’ wrote Jacob Boehme.
The same is true of the whole of life. The personage we put on is not as artificial as we think. It expresses our real person all the more faithfully because we are less on our guard with respect to it. When one of my patients is talking to me and trying most carefully to express his real self, his mechanical gestures and his unpremeditated attitudes also speak to me and furnish information about him which is quite as valuable as what he says.
The occupation I have chosen, the arrangement of my study, where I go for my holidays, the whole setting of my life, all the external appearance which makes up my personage, is inseparable from my person, because it is the expression of it.
Our personage molds our person. The external role we play transforms us constantly, exerting its influence even on the deepest and most intimate recesses of the person. Of course, the habit does not make the monk—the proverb is an indication of the subtlety of the problem—putting on a dress will not turn us into a saint. But neither is it without good reason that a priest wears a cassock, a judge his robe, or the soldier his uniform. . . . Napoleon knew what he was talking about when he wrote: “One becomes the man of one’s uniform.”
Propaganda comes to us from without, but it penetrates our deepest selves. The demeanor we adopt, every gesture we make, similarly play their part in fashioning us inwardly. . . . our physical, psychical, and even our spiritual life bear the imprint of our personage.
We turn our backs on the utopian dream of living nakedly, of shedding the personage from the person. We recognize that they are inseparable. But why is it, then, that we are obsessed with the idea of distinguishing and separating them? Whence comes the uneasy feeling which we all experience when we see ourselves and others acting a part?
One of my patients once said to me: “There is something in me which protests—when I am at the theater, for example, watching a magnificent production, I seem to hear a voice inside me telling me the whole thing is grotesque.” She went on: “What irks me is the thought that it has been arranged in order to be magnificent.” It is not the mask, the personage in itself, but its artificial and deceptive character, which gives us the uneasy feeling I was speaking of. It happens as soon as we perceive a discord between the person and the personage.
It is not, then, a case of casting off the personage, but of bringing it into harmony with the person. It is a case of being in accord with oneself. Pindar put it magnificently: “Become what you are.” We must turn about and proceed in an entirely new direction. Instead of turning our backs on the outside world and concentrating on our own inner life, where the true nature of the person always eludes us, we must look outward, toward the world, toward our neighbor, toward God. We must boldly undertake the formation of a personage for ourselves, seeking to form it in accordance with our sincerest convictions, so that it will express and show forth the person that we are.
This will no longer be a cold intellectual analysis; it will be a movement of life, a daily fashioning, a becoming, a constant adjustment of our personage in order to render it more in conformity with our thought, feelings, and aspirations. It is an act of will, a conscious choice of an external appearance, of a line of conduct and behavior that will be as genuine as possible.
The sincerity of the natural scene is one of the most striking and admirable things about it. Nature is beautiful because it is what it is, without any kind of affectation. We shall always wear a garment; we cannot cast it off without tearing away something of ourselves with it. What we can do is to aim at harmony so that the garment does not belie the wearer.
. . . when the personage we show comes to the point of running counter to the quite unconscious motions of the mind, the uneasiness may take the form of obscure psychical symptoms such as anxiety, depression, obsessions, and inhibitions.
But in this world full concord between personage and person remains an utopian ideal. . . . The final reality of the person—always in motion, complex, mysterious, and incomprehensible—still eludes us. Here and there we may catch a gleam of light, a reflection of it, just at those humbling moments when we perceive that we are not what we thought we were.
This tension that always exists between the person and the personage is one of the conditions of our life, and we must accept it. It is part of the nature of man—indeed, it is what makes him a man. Every other creature in nature is simply itself, without this discord which is our constant lot. That is why we can study everything else in nature much more surely than we can study ourselves. With ourselves, all we have to go on is an occasional glimpse of some small part of the truth, and we must be content with that, knowing that we are truly known by him who alone knows us: “For now we see through a glass, darkly”; writes St. Paul, “. . . now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”; (I Cor. 13:12).